Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari

I bought this book by mistake.

I thought it was a collection of essays about Salmon Rushdie’s terrific novel Midnight’s Children, one of my all-time favorites. Midnight’s Furies then sat on my TBR shelf for nearly five years. Five years is the maximum I allow. After that, it’s time to admit I’m just never going to read it and pass it along to a nearby free library.

Since I’m spending the month of December trying to read as many of these under-the-deadline books as I can, I finally read this one.

Turns out, Midnight’s Furies is a history of India’s Partition, the period just after independence when the country was divided into two nations which eventually became three: Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

There’s a good chance, if you’re and American reader like me, that you know very little about what actually happened. You probably know that it was a very violent time with large numbers of civilians killed by mobs of Hindus seeking Muslims or Muslims seeking Hindus. You probably know that Mahatma Ghandi tried to stop the violence only be assissinated. That’s probably the limit of your knowledge. It was the limit of mine, except for what I learned from reading a few novels set during this time like Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

At 261 pages, Midnight’s Furies is a good introduction to the topic. Nisid Hajari covers the major events and the major players from just before the end of World War II to an epilogue summarizing the current state of all three countries circa 2014 when the book was published. It’s very useful reading if this is a topic you are interested in.

Mr. Hajari refrains from taking a position through most of the book, which is both a blessing and a burden. This neutral stance makes it possible for him to cover events and people on all sides of the issue in a way that seems fair to me. I cannot find an agenda favoring any side in Midnight’s Furies. If the goal is simply to better understand what happened during Partition this neutral stance is very helpful. I learned a lot about what happened and how it came to occur.

What I didn’t learn was who should be held responsible. While it is more than clear that all sides in the conflict committed terrible acts, really terrible acts, it’s not until the closing chapter that Mr. Hajari lays out a critique of Jinnah and Nehru, the leaders of Pakistan and India, and their colleagues. This is the component I felt the book lacked, some attempt to discuss why this happened and who shared responsibility for it. What were the root causes? Who exploited them? How did they do so, and could they have been deterred?

Mr. Hajari does not ignore these questions by any means, but his main concern in Midnight’s Furies is to detail what happened, which is a formidable task and something he does quite well. While in the end Midnight’s Furies did not answer all of my questions, it did a very good job of laying the historical groundwork needed to correctly frame them. For that it is a worthwhile read.

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